Dorotheas Aufenthalt an Branksome Hall (2014/15)

Toronto, Ontario, Kanada

Hello, my name is Dorothea, I’m from Berlin and I spent year abroad here at Branksome Hall, an all-girls school downtown Toronto.

I already decided at the end of grade 9 that I want to do a year abroad because I heard so many people describing the one year abroad as the year of their life. I wanted to make all this new experiences myself, getting to know more of the world, stepping out of my comfort zone, making friendships for a lifetime. I was really excited when I started the whole process, but when it actually came to choosing a school there were moments where I was just confused and not sure anymore if I would find the perfect school. With the support of my family and the ssb team I finally decided for Branksome. Looking back, the preparation seminar in Dortmund and all the tips ssb gave me about how to prepare best and make the arrival easier turned out to be very helpful. I surprised myself that I took the risk of spending one year in a completely unknown environment since I was a shy, introverted and cautious person, always trying to make predictable decisions without risks. I had never been on a girl school or in a boarding school before not mentioning living on my own away from home for a longer time.

Despite all the preparation time flew until I was done packing and my last evening at home started. And then I was on my first flight alone across the Atlantic. It was an incredible feeling, I was so excited and could not wait to see the place where I would spend the next 10 months though it was still a little bit scary to imagine. When I finally arrived it was overwhelming. The new school and residence, the other people from all over the world, the language. The new residence girls had an orientation week where we did sightseeing and got to know each other which turned out to be very helpful. The first days I did not speak a word because I thought my English would be too bad and I could not understand anyone. But everyone was so nice and welcoming and I noticed pretty fast that the others are in exactly the same situation as me: new city, new people, new language. Then I tried to be open and more outgoing and I already found in the orientation week many really good friends.

The first week of school was very challenging for me because I felt that I could never manage my courses and deal with the new lifestyle and I was near to giving up. The first day was the only time I wondered why we have two hours study time, after that I already needed it. By the end of the week I was exhausted from the jetlag, all the homework and still adjusting to everything new. Compared to Germany, my days were so full and structured and I did not had much free time. But after the first week it got a lot easier. I got support from my friends, teachers and residence dons and I also became good friends with day students. After three weeks, I looked back and could not believe how much time already passed. My new life got normal so quickly and I got used to wearing a school uniform, taking all my class notes on a laptop, speaking in English and sharing my room with my roommate.

Branksome has an outstanding academic program which does not only include lessons in the classroom, but also provides great learning opportunities that my school in Germany never offered to me. Beside school, most people are part of one of the many co-curricular activities that Branksome offers like a sport team, a club or a service program. Just for fun and without expecting anything, I went to the auditions for ‘Grease’, the school’s theatre production in cooperation with a boy’s school in Toronto. Surprisingly, I got in and spend two and a half months a lot of time rehearsing to dance and sing in the end at three amazing performance nights. With my drama class I had the incredible opportunity to visit New York for a few days to attend theatre workshops and watch plays on Broadway. In class, we performed plays we wrote ourselves and really grew together as an ensemble. As a part of the rowing team I had the possibility to train with amazing people and trainers. I started in the winter season where we did indoor training on ergometers and in the spring we went every morning at 5 am on the water and attended regattas in Canada and the USA on the weekends. I also played in the orchestra and joined other events at Branksome.

I came to Branksome with making the promise to myself to take every opportunity, enjoy every single moment and be as open and outgoing as possible. And now after my year in Canada is over, I know that Branksome was the best choice for me. Looking back, this year was the hardest and most challenging of my life. I was often physically and mentally exhausted and asked myself if it was worth putting so much effort in school and my extracurriculars. But now I can not only say yes, I can say that I enjoyed every single moment, no matter if I was spending a weekend at a friend’s house or experiencing the pain of racing the last meters of a regatta. The school gave me so many opportunities to experience things I had never imagined and could have never experienced at home. And also the people that I met made me grow. I made friends for a lifetime. I went through happy and sad times with my friends, laughed and cried, went to dinners, movies and dances, stayed at friend’s houses over weekends or holidays, was camping, went dog sledging in Ottawa, wrote my own theatre play, experienced different cultures and a completely different school.

But what happens now that I returned home? Beside, that I face the problem to not find the right German word because I still think in English and beside that I can do my own laundry now? It was definitely hard to leave what became a second home to me and it is hard to get used to my life here but I am so glad that my parents made this experience possible. I know I’m gonna see my friends again even if they live all over the world now. This year changed a lot, my school formed my personality and thinking. I would describe myself now as confident, independent, risk-taking and open to unfamiliar situations and new people. In one sentence: It was the year of my life.

Last, I want to thank everyone who made this year an unforgettable memory for me. I really hope that you decide doing a year abroad because I can assure you that it will be an amazing experience! I wish you all the best and for anyone who considers Branksome, feel free to ask ssb Nottebohm for emailing me with any questions!